Paris/Kampala: Rwandan genocide suspect Felicien Kabuga, who is accused of funding militias that massacred about 800,000 people, was arrested on Saturday near Paris after 26 years on the run, the French justice ministry said.
The 84-year-old, who is Rwanda's most-wanted man and had a $5 million US bounty on his head, was living under a false identity in a flat in Asnieres-Sur-Seine, according to the ministry.
French gendarmes arrested him at 0530 GMT on Saturday, the ministry said.
Kabuga was indicted in 1997 on seven criminal counts including genocide, complicity in genocide and incitement to commit genocide, all in relation to the 1994 Rwanda genocide, according to the UN-established International Residual Mechanism for Criminal Tribunals (IRMCT).
Rwanda's two main ethnic groups are the Hutus and Tutsis, who have historically had an antagonistic relationship and fought a civil war in the early 1990s.
A Hutu businessman, Kabuga is accused of funding the militias that massacred some 800,000 Tutsis and their moderate Hutu allies over a span of 100 days in 1994.
"Since 1994, Felicien Kabuga, known to have been the financier of Rwanda genocide, had with impunity stayed in Germany, Belgium, Congo-Kinshasa, Kenya, or Switzerland," the French ministry statement said.
His arrest paves the way for the fugitive to come before the Paris Appeal Court and later be transferred to the custody of the international court, which is based in the Hague, Netherlands and Arusha, Tanzania. He would then be brought before UN judges, an IRMCT spokesman said.
Two other Rwandan genocide suspects, Augustin Bizimana and Protais Mpiranya, are still being pursued by international justice.
"The arrest of Félicien Kabuga today is a reminder that those responsible for genocide can be brought to account, even twenty-six years after their crimes," the IRMCT's Chief Prosecutor Serge Brammertz said in a statement.
He added the arrest was the result of cooperation between law enforcement agencies in France and other countries including the United States, Rwanda, Belgium, the United Kingdom, Germany, the Netherlands and others.
Rwanda's justice minister, Johnston Busingye, told Reuters that a statement on the arrest would be issued but did not specify when.
Kabuga, who controlled many of Rwanda's tea and coffee plantations and factories, was part-owner of Radio Television Milles Collines which ran a radio station that fanned ethnic hatred against Rwanda's Tutsis, told Hutus where Tutsis were to be found and offered advice on how to kill them.
He is accused of being a main financier of the genocide, paying for the militias that carried out the massacres.
His arrest "is an important step towards justice for hundreds of thousands of genocide victims...survivors can hope to see justice and suspects cannot expect to escape accountability," Mausi Segun, Africa director at Human Rights Watch, told Reuters.
What happened in Rwanda's 1994 genocide?
In 1990, rebels of the Tutsi-dominated Rwanda Patriotic Front (RPF) invaded northern Rwanda from neighbouring Uganda. The RPF's success prompted President Juvenal Habyarimana, a Hutu, to speed up political reforms.
In August 1993, Rwanda and the RPF signed a deal to end years of civil war, allowing for power-sharing and the return of refugees. Habyarimana was slow in implementing the agreement, and a transitional government failed to take off.
On April 6, 1994, Habyarimana and neighbouring Burundi's president, Cyprien Ntaryamira - both Hutus - were killed in a rocket attack on their plane over the capital Kigali.
The next day, presidential guards killed moderate Hutu Prime Minister Agathe Uwilingiyimana who had tried to calm tensions.
Habyarimana's death triggered 100 days of violence in the tiny country, perpetrated mainly by Hutus against Tutsis and moderate Hutus. About 800,000 people were killed, many butchered with machetes by militia known as Interahamwe.
The RPF advanced and seized control of Rwanda after driving the 40,000-strong Hutu army and more than 2 million civilian Hutus into exile in Burundi, Tanzania and the former Zaire, now Democratic Republic of Congo.
In July 1994 a new government was sworn in with Pasteur Bizimungu, a Hutu, named president and RPF commander Paul Kagame as vice president. Kagame was elected president in April 2000 and remains in the office.
In December 1996, Rwanda's first genocide trial opened at the International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda (ICTR) in Arusha, northern Tanzania.
It ultimately heard from more than 3,000 witnesses, indicted 96 people, and sentenced 61 of them including ex-prime minister Jean Kambanda and former Colonel Theoneste Bagosora, who was accused of being in charge of the troops and Interahamwe which carried out the massacres. Both were given life sentences.
Most people convicted in connection with the genocide were tried in community-based "gacaca" courts in Rwanda.
Rwandan troops invaded Congo twice during the 1990s to try to hunt down perpetrators of the genocide. Conflict there is estimated to have killed several million people, mostly through hunger and disease. Luis Moreno-Ocampo, chief prosecutor of the International Criminal Court (ICC) until 2012, described the 1998-2003 war in Congo as "the greatest armed conflict after the Second World War."